Archive for January, 2010

Talking to the Taliban?

[picapp align=”center” wrap=”false” link=”term=afghanistan&iid=7719736″ src=”a/a/e/d/Members_Of_The_1f62.jpg?adImageId=9669622&imageId=7719736″ width=”380″ height=”240″ /]The UN has had “secret peace talks” with the Taliban.

An official statement from the Taliban leadership in response to today’s conference warned that “attempts by the enemy to bribe the mujahideen, offering them money and employment to abandon jihad, are futile”. However, it added what appeared to be a conciliatory note, saying that it was waging a jihad only to “liberate” Afghan territory and posed “no threat to neighbouring countries or anyone else”.

I understand that after nine years of war, peaceful solutions must be found. However, there should and must be an option between constant presence of foreign troops and the Taliban controlling Afghanistan.

Why?

Because their laws include (but are not limited to):
1. Restricting the attire and freedom of movement women and men
2. Prohibiting the education of women after the age of 8
3. Prohibiting the employment of women
4. Prohibiting women from seeing male physicians, and (see rule two) limiting the ability of women to be physicians (if they must see a male physician, the male is not allowed to touch the female, the hijab must be worn, and vocal interactions are limited).
5. Prohibiting music, British and American hairstyles (?), dancing at weddings, sorcery, washing clothes in streams, shaving, kite-flying, and keeping pigeons
6. Requiring prayer

Bearing in mind that there are Muslims who believe in Sharia law but think any punishment is in the hands of God, I am drawing a line between the Taliban means of enforcing Sharia law and whether or not that is justified within Sharia law. What matters is their interpretation and what happens to the people of Afghanistan, legally, when they break or are convicted of breaking any of the laws. Women Aid has a brief précis of the rise of the Taliban and how their laws and, critically, extreme punishment, differs from the usual.

Taliban law is enforced by religious police. Stoning, beating, and execution are all accepted punishments under the Taliban. They do not believe in democrat process. Human rights agencies have reported repeatedly on lack of fair trial and a corrupt justice system.

In 2000, the UN condemned human rights violations under the Taliban, including mass abductions and forced prostitution and marriage of women.

At present life is not that much better.

But is the choice really between warlords and religious police? Is there not a third, peaceful way that legislates basic human liberties and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment?

The right to life supersedes all others, and the ongoing war is brutal for much of the country, but basic human and women’s rights should not be compromised in an attempt to reconcile the Taliban and the current government.

Given that this is directly in conflict with the laws they sought to enforce, I don’t see how it’s possible.

Politics of Attraction

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=halo&iid=264582″ src=”0261/2b8d1573-bab1-44ac-80ea-df54ff6b8f6d.jpg?adImageId=9434758&imageId=264582″ width=”234″ height=”331″ /] Studies have shown that people attribute all sorts of positive traits to people who are attractive (link includes a general definition of ‘attractiveness’ in a broad sense). Interestingly, the inverse seems to hold true – that people with good personalities are perceived as more attractive.

This is related to the Halo effect, whereby one positive trait (physical or character) suggests to the person making the observation a raft of other positive traits.

This study shows that people are more likely to trust attractive people more (and, conversely, be more disappointed if they prove unworthy of trust).

This suggests that people, in general, are more likely to consider seriously ideas presented by an attractive person that they would not otherwise. For example, if one is speaking to someone who holds a point of view with which they disagree, one would, theoretically, be more likely to consider whatever arguments they presented, whether or not they were intelligently discussed, than if they subconsciously found the person plain or were listening to them on the radio.

In contemplating this, I wondered about how much influence this has on politics. In the debate between JFK and Nixon, those who listened on the radio thought Nixon won, whereas the television audience thought JFK did, clearly affected by the discrepancy in appearance, as Nixon was recovering from illness and JFK had been campaigning in California, and had a nice tan.

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=barak+obama&iid=1381539″ src=”9/f/7/2/09.jpg?adImageId=9434797&imageId=1381539″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]At present, there is the discussion of Obama’s first year in the media, and the lead up to the UK elections which will include televised debate for the first time.

In the former case, I think we can see, to some extent, the greater ‘disappointment/punishment’ factor for the trust given (excessively?) to attractive people. Not necessarily that Obama has failed, but that he is perhaps being unduly castigated by people who assumed, for example, because he is tall and well-spoken he agreed with all of their personal viewpoints and would be capable of enacting laws in accordance with them.

In the latter instance, I think the debates will provide an interesting opportunity to observe this tendency. Obviously the current Labour government is in an awkward position because of the recession, but leaving that consideration aside, the three key debaters are Gordon Brown (Labour), David Cameron (Tory), and Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrat). Clegg is the most tv ready, and being from the smallest party, will probably gain the most simply from wide exposure. Cameron is prettier that Brown, certainly, although the Labour campaign is currently mocking the Tory campaign for having an airbrushed photo of Cameron staring down from billboards. Whether bringing that into the discussion negates the effect remains to be seen.

One would, of course, hope that in any election, the populace makes an effort to be informed about the various candidates and party platforms and vote for that which most closely represents what they feel is best for themselves and their community.

Success and Accomplishment

How do we define success and accomplishment?

[picapp align=”center” wrap=”false” link=”term=british+library&iid=7311740″ src=”9/4/8/d/Library_of_the_38da.jpg?adImageId=9135310&imageId=7311740″ width=”500″ height=”418″ /]
Historically, accomplishment was tied to education (the sort befitting the sex of the person in question) and financial success. A man might, after receiving a classical education, study law or religion, then inherit a political or ecumenical position, and/or a series of estates, which would require some management but essentially bring significant income from the rent on these properties, or a return on any standing investments with financial institutions.

Women, should their family have the means and inclination, would be taught in subjects such as foreign languages, and various forms of ‘refined’ entertainment like singing and playing instruments, painting, and needlework. Information on how to run a household would also be forthcoming.

However, both of these types of accomplishment are based on class. Obviously, one’s family would have to have money and something like a title in society to provide this sort of life and education. So what of everyone else? Men could perhaps find glory in the armed forces, or the church, and women would, again, have to run households (however small), and perhaps work as a seamstress or milliner, and everyone else would work on one of the farms owned by the upper classes.

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=17th+century&iid=7312717″ src=”6/2/9/e/Peasant_cottage_interior_4877.jpg?adImageId=9135178&imageId=7312717″ width=”234″ height=”190″ /]But did they think of success differently? These people with fewer opportunities to become wealthy or ‘cultured’? One must assume so, otherwise, what goals and satisfactions could be had if all accomplishments was left to the few wealthy families? Perhaps a well run farm, or a thriving small business, or in general an aptitude for the position into which they were, for all intents and purposes, born, or a talent for self-edification and pleasing society.

Most western societies now, have the same general concept of success – financial and educational (the latter being related to the former, at least ideally) and are, theoretically, at least, more socially mobile. The US prides itself on being a country where a person of the meanest origins can become a multi-millionaire. Education and health care are more readily available – heavily funded federally in Canada and most of Europe, although the quality of such does still largely depend on where you can afford to live and if you can afford insurance.

And, generally, we have more choices. Though the majority of people still have to fall into the lower section of society, simply by virtue of statistics, there are more types of business, more industry, and the implication (if perhaps not the fact), that anyone with enough determination can reach the top, regardless of class, colour, or creed, in a career that interests them beyond the potential for remuneration.

It is this last assumption with which I take issue, having recently sparred with someone over the truth of it. They iterated that some young upper class women of their acquaintance were in law school, and had done very well for themselves, in contrast to the slightly older people he knew at work (a store), where he and his coworkers all believed themselves to be unaccomplished, unmotivated people who, though not necessarily unhappy, could not claim the kind of success these young women appeared to have.

To me, this is immediately problematic as the people in question were already favoured by access to the best education possible, in all likelihood because of, yes, inherent aptitude, but also because of the best schools they were able to attend due to their family’s financial privilege, whether it be the cause of living in a nice neighborhood with a better local school, or the ability to pay for a private school and exam review courses and the like.

Does this mean that people from lower quality schools never achieve the same thing? Of course not, but while I salute the women for knowing what they wanted and achieving it, but to insist that it had absolutely nothing to do with social advantages is foolish. Moreover, the implication that anyone who works in a shop or some other working class position is somehow unmotivated and less accomplished than these women is insulting.

Yes, perhaps the individuals to whom this person referred consider themselves capable of greater things, but they both haven’t quite decided what that is, nor seen the kinds of opportunities (often provided by familial or school connections) that might suggest a particular line. These are people who do genuinely have to start at the bottom, of whatever industry or industries they think might being them the most enjoyment. And, particularly in an economic climate where millions of people are unemployed, the competition for the few positions available is going to be steep.

In the meantime, of course, people have to eat. (This is leaving aside, for the moment, the idea that some people might actually want to work in a shop, with perhaps the aim of having their own some day). Success, in this case, would be finding the money to pay for basic necessities and having enough left over for a satisfying social life.

Additionally, of course, everyone defines success and accomplishment differently. Not all accomplishment has to cost thousands of (insert appropriate currency here). Some goals are more personal – traveling, creating art, self-edification, buying property, having a family, etc. And although society at large likes to have an easy way of judging the success of other people, bank balance and the job title on a business card seem ultimately quite shallow.

While I do hope that one day we live in a society where everyone truly does have equal opportunity to achieve whatever dream they have for themselves, and there isn’t such a gross gap between the highest and lowest earners in society (there is no reason for anyone in the West to live below the poverty line. Not when CEOs could drop their salary by half, still be millionaires, and all of their employees could make 10K more per annum), any estimation of accomplishment and success, of oneself or others, should take into account both what that person wants for themselves, and where they’re starting from. It’s a lot harder to reach the top from the bottom than from the middle.

Or maybe we shouldn’t judge at all. But then, I suppose we need things to admire in others to inspire ourselves.


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